Wednesday, May 14, 2008

In the Land of Consumption

It is springtime, but instead of the sweet smell of grass and the twitter of birds my senses are being assaulted -- by landscapers! We live on a block with small yards, perhaps 200 square feet or less, and yet every day a huge truck with a trailer of equipment pulls up in front of one of my neighbors' homes. Out of the truck pour 4 or more men with various gas-powered equipment, including ride on mowers, trimmers, blowers, and clippers, and for the next two hours the yards are manicured. The noise is deafening -- when this is going on in the yards directly adjacent to mine it wakes the baby from his nap and sometimes even shakes my house. Still worse, the smell of gas makes me mildly nauseous. On special days the flower beds are also treated to new mulch or fertilizer, and that smell lingers for a few days. There are special pesticide treatments, and men come around to open up the automatic sprinkler systems that will water these patches of grass all summer.

This is my first time ever living in the suburbs, and I guess I was wrong to look forward to a quiet, country spring. I had no idea what was involved in keeping up appearances, but particularly in this economy and with what we are learning about the impact on our environment, I have to say, I find myself disgusted.

I grew up in the city with a small backyard. Most of it was flagstone patio, but the surrounding beds were maintained by my parents. Each spring, I remember enjoying a special time with my mom when my dad came home with flats of pansies and we could dig with kitchen spoons to plant then in our window boxes.

Next year, I will own a home far from the city, with a yard substantially larger than any on the suburban block where we live right now. Perhaps we will have a high school boy come once a week to mow the lawn, to free up my husband's limited free time for family activities, but other than that I hope that we will maintain our property ourselves. Frankly, we are going to have to, which leads to my next question -- how are people paying for this?


Anonymous said...

Recently I freaked out when my poor husband was wrestling with our two young children on a neighbor's freshly chem-washed lawn. I made them all shower while I googled pesticides and young children. YUCK! You're not the only one questioning our overweening interest in perfect green lawns. I am seriously interested in transforming our large lawn into a "moss lawn"--with no maintenance or cost or yucky questionable pesticides, which I read about in the New York Times. They can wrestle all they want on that lawn! See:

Kat said...

Mary Alice ~

If we end up getting help for mowing the lawn, I like the idea of having a neighborhood kid come around to help because then it is just 1 person using 1 lawn mower, rather than the 2 or 3 that usually arrive with a landscaping crew. I also like the idea of maintaining the rest of the yard ourselves - the flower beds, etc. - because I think it will be a fun project for the entire family. Having said that, I know next to nothing about gardening, so I will be relying on the advice of others starting in a few weeks, when we will be first-time home-owners! I also realize that I may be much less enthusiastic about yard work when we get into 100 degree TX heat!!

Any advice from others on good lawn mowers? I'm looking for ease of use, affordability, and safety. Also, I guess that electric mowers would be more environmentally friendly than gas mowers - any thoughts on the pros and cons of those?


Right Said Red said...

Mr. Red has been cutting our lawn, he thinks its good b/c it gives him exercise, I think it takes a lot of time out of his already very busy schedule.

He read this post and the article suggested by anonymous and now we are thinking about a moss backyard? I just read the article and visited the site for Moss Acres and it is very interesting. We have a heavily shaded backyard, so most of it is just patches of grass and dirt...I think moss would grow well.

We might visit Moss Acres on a family vacation/trip to upstate NY in June.

texas mommy said...

I know I'm totally crazy, but I love mowing the grass. Our neighbors thought I was nuts or my husband was really mean when they saw me mowing at 9 months pregnant. That said, after Jack-Jack was born and with Mr. Incredible's travel schedule, we did hire a local guy to mow and edge our lawn and gave away our lawnmower, otherwise we would pass it on to you, Kat, if you all want to give it a go. But we do lay our own mulch, do our weeding,plant annual flowers and plant our garden.

Even before I began reading a lot of Charlotte Mason, I have always liked the idea of spending as much time as possible outside with kids, exploring nature and getting dirty. Dash is very much into our homemade garden this year and loves to help weed. We check on and water our seedlings every day. You can see our work here: (garden)

Mary Alice, perhaps you can build a tiny garden at your new home (it takes just a few minutes). I am not at all experienced in these matters, but have managed to keep an herb garden and grown some veggies for the last few years. Some books I'd recommend (our library had them) are Square Foot Gardening (Bartholomew) and Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots: Gardening Together with Children (Lovejoy)

Also, since we made our own garden soil with organic compost, peat moss and vermiculite there are no chemicals in the soil and I was able to order organic plants online.

The idea of moss is very interesting. I was shocked to learn how much of the water used here goes to sprinkler systems/watering lawns as opposed to anything else...over 25%.

Heather said...

If anyone lives in a dry area, she might consider what's called xeriscaping It's basically landscaping that takes into consideration how much water you have available to you. There are many really pretty desert plants and landscapes to consider if you live in Texas. I learned about xeriscaping from the text book that I teach from. The book points out how wasteful and expensive it can be to try to keep up a lawn in a dry area. I think the idea is along the same idea as the "moss lawns" idea, which sound great! There are many websites so you can google it if you are interested.

Mary Alice said...

I don't know anything about electric mowers, I am excited to look into it. I had been joking about getting a hand powered mower, but now that I have read this review, I think I might actually go for it!

That would be great exercise, and while I don't think I could get a neighbor's kid to do it, with a hand mower I could probably get my six year old started pretty soon!

In general, I really like the (mostly organic) gardening resources available from They also have some mulch mats made from recycled tires, I was thinking that something like that would be great under a swing set, it is similar to what is used in city parks.

Ann said...

We pay to have our lawn mowed - it is $20.00 per time. It is just less work for hubby. They also mulched all of our beds this year for the first time. It was just worth the money (this year) - hubby has been working so much it is nice to have more family time on Saturday.
What is sad is that I think if I asked a neighborhood boy to mow my lawn for $$$ I'd probably get a blank stare. I think society is just moving away from that line of thought - unfortunately. Now we do do our own flowers. =)
My neighborhood is ridiculous in the landscaping department! Talk about keeping up with the Joneses! People landscape around their trampolines, we have fountains and fire pits galore - how do they afford it?? Maybe they are in debt. The majority of them do have two incomes though.
I am looking forward to moving to the country in about 2 months!! We will have a garden, a clothsline, and no one will *gasp* if my kids are barefoot in the backyard. (during "school time" :)
I literally cannot wait!
I have officially become my mother!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ann - we have a huge lawn that we maintain ourselves because we do not want to have illegal immigrants working for a pittance with a ton of chemicals and petroleum by-products on our lawn. I would LOVE to hire a neighborhood kid, but none are interested in that kind of work.

We are slowly working to convert the huge lawn into many beds of flowers and veggies and plants with just enough space for the kids to run around. We have a push mower, and my goal is to get the lawn to the point where we can just use that. Right now, it's just too much lawn not to use the gas mower.

Juris Mater said...

Wow. I had no idea how many ways I was poisoning my family daily until we started this blog...

Mad Cow, are you still a loyal reader? Thanks to you, for three months now, I've been breaking our bank account buying free range beef.

And where oh where shall we play now, if not on our wealthy neighbors' poisonous lawns? I thought all those "Chem Lawn" warning signs were sneaky deterrants to keep kids from trampling freshly-landscaped fancy yards... I didn't know they were serious about the "Chem" part. Red, our friendly organic neighbor, can you and Mr. Red get your organic compost vermiculite moss lawn up and running for us soon?

B-Mama said...

I've really enjoyed reading all of these insightful comments! Great stuff, folks, especially as GG and I consider how we are going to maintain our new home's lawn. The sellers currently pay $155 monthly for lawn care!!!!!!!!! Almost $40 a pop! Can you believe that racket? The yard isn't even that big and is also full of "other" plantings that take up space. I can tell you right now we will NOT be continuing with the current service...

And I have to admit, Red, that I absolutely crack up thinking of your family visiting "Moss Acres" on your summer trip to NY! lol. All I can picture is, "Hey kids, check out this moss." lol. :) This could make for some great future family stories. :)

Mad Cow said...

Juris Mater,

Mad Cow here. Yes, I’m still a loyal reader. And this is a topic near and dear to my heart. Have you ever grazed on a pesticide infested pasture?


But Kudos to you on the free-range beef. Someday, Bean will look down at his manly pectoral muscles and thank you that he doesn’t need to wear a man-zeere.

Fight the power,
Mad Cow

k said...

We are currently unhappily paying someone. Ditto the comments on finding a neighborhood kid, although I did just see a friend of our local friendly BOY babysitter mowing his grandma's lawn across the street which made me happy for a number of reasons (with a push mower).

B and I have been talking about switching to a push mower, we have a fair amount of lawn but since we are outside a ton with the little one and have a bunch of fenced in areas where he safely plays I think we could do it in chunks. former boss at the toystore just bought her mother-in-law a top of the line push mower and says she LOVES it, they are thinking of upgrading their push mower to that model and says we can all borrow it this summer to try it out!!

It is sad but true that my biggest complaint about our current lawn guys is not the environmental factor but the fact that they come at nap time every time!! And I've asked them not to, literally I will be leaving Jack's room and in they roll. AHHHHHH!

Oh and the environment is important too.

and man-zeere might be the funniest thing i've read in a while.

Miranda said...

Landscape-wise, I think we are the sloppiest house on our block, but when I think about it I prefer having a driveway strewn with acorns and flower petals to hiring a service to come blow them off every week.

Agree with the other comments; there are high school kids up and down our block but none of them is interested in mowing lawns or babysitting. They have plenty of money already, I suppose. Lucky them. Even our neighbors with four teenage boys have a hired service.